tv Tavis Smiley PBS January 7, 2011 2:00pm-2:30pm PST
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, our conversation with former tennis great andre agassi. he created a foundation that created a model charter school in his hometown of vegas. last year, the school graduated its first ever class with every single senior going to college. he now has a best-selling autobiography, "open." his thoughts on the u.s. open and other topics in our conversation, coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer,
nationwide insurance is happy to help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: always pleased to have andre agassi on the program. he became the only man in history to win all four grand slam titles and an olympic gold medal. his best-selling autobiography is out now, "open." to not take long for this to get on the list as well.
>> i guess not. it has been quite a year. tavis: would be mean about that? >> the feedback. this came with risks, but my hope was that those who chose to read it would not only learn more about my inspirational story, because that was important, but may be learned a little more about themselves. tavis: what were the risks that you referenced and or the risks worth taking? >> no question. my life story was a question to me as it relates to what i put in the book and what i talked about, real-life issues. writing the book was my choice, and the risk was an illusion that everything appears as it seems. we'll go through difficult places in our lives, and i am no exception. tavis: anything that you wrote, best seller status
notwithstanding, that you have thought second about, regret, wish you had not said? >> no, nothing that is in there that i regret. 400 pages does not contain any man's life. there are other things. tavis: you have had a full life. >> i don't regret it because i really prioritized what i wanted to communicate. we all know our experience. what is the story of your life? you are talking about a boat that has to do with forgiveness of yourself, which a book that has to do with forgives of yourself, of your parents, waking up in a life that you find yourself in. these are all realities that we can all identify with in one way or another. i hated what i did for a lot of years and found a way to choose it for myself. that is a journey i wanted to share. people saw me goes from number one to 141, back to no. 1 in the
world, and it was harder than it sounds. tavis: it has been said by a number of people this is one of the best sports all the biographies of all time, one of the best memoirs out there, period. it is not just a sports autobiography. this is about your life. when you are this open about your life, how does this impact your family? >> i considered everybody in writing this book, even those who are not part of my family. i started with my children, what will they think of this, knowing their dad. for the most part, i think that's read in full context, they understand that i describe these relationships in present tense. i am 7 years old describing the powerful figure my father friess.
-- my father is. i am 5 foot 11 inches, he is 5 foot 7 inches, just to set the record straight. i talk to my dad, and he said, andre, the think i care what anybody thinks? i raised four kids, put myself through two jobs, and i got my kids to the fastest way to the american dream. if i had to do it all over again, i would do a -- i would only change one thing, it would be their baseball or golf because it could play longer and make more money. my wife was very supportive. she knew my motivations as relates to my dreams and hopes and ability to connect with people. tennis gave me an opportunity to impact somebody for two hours,
and this gives me a chance to impact people hopefully generationally. i believe my next stage of life has a canvas that can do more. tavis: are you clear about that next phase? out ways with the school to get it national. i have partnered with a few great people who have given me the opportunities. we have the opportunity to scaled this school across the country in the next three to five years that will be extraordinary. tavis: for those who don't know about the school, tell the story again. am i started my foundation focused on kids. -- >> i started my foundation focused on kids. i was tired of reacting to their needs and problems. i was not being proactive. i ways felt what it would have
meant had not had tennis or education, how does. i would have felt. -- how does. i would've felt. the only way is to give a child tools for their future. at a set about building a public charter school, k-12, in vegas. i wanted to give resources, provide the resources, have accountability, and i wanted to give that opportunity to the children of society that are so quick to write off. i wanted to treat it like a laboratory. we are funded the lowest in our state and we get the worst results. i said if we could prove it can be done here, isn't that a case for how education can and should be throughout the country? tavis: you haveñ had your first graduating class. >> we have had two.
tavis: every kid you have graduated has gone on to college. i think your face tells all. >> nothing i've ever accomplished on the tennis court hit me like it does when i go into the school and i see a kid having a future. when you see them walking across that symbolic bridge that we build and you see the smile on their face, and they're the first in their family to ever go to college. and to realize they will come back and change the next generation. i mean, you are talking about -- the ripple effect is one thing, but the ripple gets smaller. this is like a tsunami. the change a child's life now and what happens on the other and can be so powerful. what happens on the other end can be so powerful. it is thrilling. tavis: i don't want to put too much on this, but i want to explore this notion of feeling
intellectually or educationally inferior, while at the same time you are so athletically superior. how you balance that? >> it was odd for me. i went to school in the desert. i found myself in cities like london and paris and new york, traveling the world. i always felt so over-matched by cultures and other people's experiences and knowledge. i felt over-matched by books. how ironic that i eventually ended up writing one. but again, i was blessed to take my professors with me on the road. i surround myself with real mentors. mike trainer was like my surrogate father who led me and guided me and help me navigate
the difficult times, and i've learned so much from him. there are children out there who don't have that opportunity. i did, but that is where education comes in. if i regret anything, it is that i did not have an education. with education comes choice. with choice becomes ownership. i have always felt so disconnected from my own life until i was 27 years old. tavis: one of the greatest ways, it seems to me, to be educated is to travel. you have traveled the world. what did you learn in all that travel, if he could put that in a statement, and second, as you look back on your career, did you really get a chance to take in enough? i am assuming when you are famous and you are traveling and not for any other purpose than to play in these tournaments, you do not a chance to take it
all in. >> i am in absolute expert on airports, hotels, tennis courts. tavis: you learned that. >> i never got a chance to really get out. you are preparing for tennis, a full-time job. i think what i learned, though, i think i learn how similar all our journeys are in life, regardless of your circumstances. we all have fears, dreams, hopes, it is not my children in las vegas. it is our children. we are also connected. i wanted to take what i had been through and all the experiences i have been through and look at it through the literary lens and say, how does this apply to all of our lives? i think the subject matter is a testament to the lesson i learned. tavis: i am fascinated by the
work you are doing with this school. occurs to me to ask, and so i will, why is that you think in the most multi-cultural, multiracial, multiethnic america ever, we continue to write off the kids that you love and serve every day in nevada? this is a new america. and we keep writing off these kids. how do we get from here to there if we write off these kids? >> it is a bad business model. i think the education system is broken. i think it is fair to say that we are failing our children. we have 1 million dropout's every year, we are 19th in the world. we have spent three times more to incarcerate a person than to educate a child. it is one of the only industries in the world -- if you look at teacher tenure.
you have a job two years, you have a job for life, regardless of how well you do the job. you are talking about our children. if you treated that like a commodity, you would say is a failing business model. we need to figure out how to put the best business leaders in front of those kids in the front of the classroom, and we have to do it in a hurry. is it absolutely part of the education? 100%. tavis: what most bothers you about the education debate in this country? >> what bothers me the most is there is no children's union. we are not -- we're talking about a lot of issues and we're forgetting that these kids are our future. when you have teacher tenure and you have an environment when you have 45, 50 kids in a classroom,
you have something that is failing at a rapid rate. we have schools closing all over america. and the oddest thing to me is it is one of these industries where we have the software. it is not like we don't know how to educate. knowledge is power program, 83 unbelievably successful charter schools throughout the country, other programs, like in california, fantastic job. we have the software. we have to figure out how to facilitate the growth of the best in class charter school operators. that is where i come in. i say where do i fit? am i an educator? no. am i an operator? not really. but just maybe with my voice and platform i can connect enough people to figure out how to make this growth for what we know how to do happen at a faster rate.
tavis: i recorded a real conversation today on my public -- a radio conversation today that will be on this weekend, with the head of the nfl players union. this is connected to sports. we had the conversation earlier today and i asked about the fact that the average playing career of an nfl player is 3.6 years. that is average playing time. i was asking him to juxtapose that number with this number, fiveh is awithin two to years of being out of the league, most of them are broke. it is not a question of money, it is the question of many of these guys don't know what the next that is.
what do you make of the fact that beyond your playing days, during your playing days in fact, you knew where you are taking your life next? >> i think my life has been blessed. it has led me in certain cases. i have followed my heart in many parts of my career. many people gave me the advice not to start my foundation at that early stage of my career. truth be told, i never lived and died inside the lines. i never really wanted it for most of my career. it came with a lot of tanks and pressure. the one thing i connect to is the ability to impact somebody. it was always my goal to get out there and find that extra bit, as scared and nervous as i was, as tired and injured as i was, to say maybe i can provide an escape to somebody else's life who came here today to watch me.
again, but chose to look at the platform of shifting from tennis into my next career as a heck of an opportunity. i have been blessed enough to be able to do it. tavis: how do you become great at something that you don't love? >> i was really talented, but i did not become great at it, in my own mind, until i took ownership of it. when i walked away from the game at 27 years old, i give myself permission to quit. i had been depressed, dabbled in self destruction, drugs, crystal meth, coke, and i was in the tailspin of my life. i said to myself, at that moment, i never hated tennis anymore. this was the most i hated the sport right now for what i feel it has done to me, not having to perspective on it, and i give myself permission to walk away.
i said, this is not you, stop pretending. the second i give myself that permission i said, well, now that i know that i can quit and i feel that liberation of saying i can quit, i don't feel like a quitter. what if i chose it? what if i chose it and found reasons to do what? so many people go through jobs, go through their life that they hate, but they find reasons to get through and they have ownership of it. that is what happened to me, the epiphany. i chose it for the first time, and that is when the school started to develop. i said i could use tennis as a vehicle to push the buttons in me that i believe fuel me, and i felt like all the sudden i was in a team sport and i was playing for something that was connected to me, yet much larger than me. i started to have a relationship that was different with the sport and started to become at peace with it, and the sport gave me life.
that i was old enough and had enough context, and of perspective to appreciate the moments that were happening out therei won more grand slams after 29 than i did all the way up until then because i was not truly successful until it was mine. tavis: so you made peace with it before you stepped away for good? >> i made more than peace with it. i owe a great deal to that sport. tavis: you are so honest and frank and open in the book, no pun intended. how did this impact your standing, your relationships in the world of tennis? >> i think it strengthens a lot, those who read it. those who did not, on some level -- there are two buckets people fit in, those who responded and those who reacted. those who reacted were negative,
and i expected that. i was disappointed with myself as i wrote the book. but i believe that it broadened to -- i think it broadened the sport and it stimulates the dialogue with parents and kids and sports. i think it shows how hard it is to do it. i think ultimately, players reading this, peers reading this would feel respected in their own discipline and accomplishments. overall, i think it has been a good thing. tavis: that explains what it did for everybody else. what has this done for andre? >> it has helped me figure things out. it is such a whirlwind, this life, and my life has never been a lie. it has always been a constant pursuit of the truth. every time i made a decision, or if i got my arms or hands around
something that was true, it was like it was water to thirsty, i needed it. to actually take the time, thousands of hours, look back at my life and look at all the contradictions that existed over the years and piece it together in a narrative that explains myself to me, it has given me the tools to move forward with full confidence, full belief, full knowledge of what i am capable of, who i m. it has been a gift to me. tavis: i noticed that you have been back to new york and signed some copies at the u.s. open. how does it feel when you step back into those environs? >> if feels great. one of the first emotions that i have driving up to the stadium is, it doesn't matter how i feel physically. i used to pull up to the stadium if i was a little bit tired or sore or cranky, and it was going
to impact my day. now i go there, i am still enjoying myself. i am still in gauging the people, still enjoying watching tennis more now than ever. it is a place where i think i had my most powerful moments in the sport, which was me saying goodbye. tavis: you opened the book at your last u.s. open appearance. >> the book starts at the end. tavis: nicely put. speaking of new york, i have been following this. i just read the other day a story about yvonne lendl. i discovered that he is going to , and lo and behold in the article, agassi is going
to pled sampras? is that true? >> it is true. i guess i have not had enough of him in my career. usually when we are playing it is sunday and there is a blimp in the sky. tavis: have you played other tournament? >> i have, for charity, some exhibitions. it is an interesting experience for me. i am really at peace with it. i enjoy it. i don't enjoy how i feel physically the next day, but i have a great deal of fun trying to reconnect with the game. it has already been four years since i retired, and getting out there against people be fun. that will bring back memories, more bad than good, because i got the worst of it most times against pete sampras. tavis: when you do this kind of stuff, are you going with everything you have? >> i go out there with the
intention of really not, but then there is pete and he does not leave you much choice. you try to do everything you can to make a competitive, without taking it too seriously, because the truth is we used to be good, and now we are out there. when you get out there, it is amazing how you could take all the good you ever felt for the sport and leave away all the bad. there used to be so much pressure. now it is completely easy. if i miss it, it does not bother me. if i make it, i kind of smile. tavis: you have lived and are living a wonderful life. it is a blessing and a thing of beauty to see you at this point in your life, as happy as you can be, doing the kind of work that is a blessing to other people. >> you are such a pleasure. tavis: andre agassi's book is out in paperback, called "open."
it is again on the best-seller list after being in hard cover. you will not be disappointed when you read "open" by agassi. catch me on the weekend on public radio international. i will see you back here next time on pbs. until then, good night from l.a., thank you for watching, and as always, keep the faith. >> for more in with musician sheryl crow on the release of her latest cd. that is next time. we will see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to
improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org--